IS YOUR SEM AGENCY UP TO THE TASK?

Regardless of who’s managing your PPC account, an agency, an in-house team, or even yourself, there are a few red flags that can indicate it may be time to consider the alternatives.

So what are some of the red flags to look out for with your account team? There are many, but I’ll cover some of the ones that are critical yet relatively easy to spot.

Red Flag #1: Bad Conversion Tracking

What makes online advertising and PPC incredibly so powerful is that its results are measurable. Google Ads platform reports clicked keywords, how much those clicks cost, and what the users typed into the search box to see your ads.

If you’ve set up conversion tracking, the report will also include how many leads, sales, and other conversions resulted from these clicks. And once you know both cost and conversions, you can easily calculate key business metrics like Cost Per Action (CPA) and Return On Ad Spend (ROAS), and use this to double down on successful keywords, and trim the waste on ones that aren’t profitable.

Without tracking your conversions correctly, you’re missing half the picture, and it makes it impossible to do intelligent data-driven optimizations. With insufficient conversion data, your account management team is marketing blind. While they might still improve the account by applying best practices, you can’t expect them to be effective without accurate conversion data.

Luckily for us, technology has come a long way. Now we can use Google Analytics to track conversions like offline sales and foot traffic to our stores. But as tracking has become more powerful, it’s also more complex to set up correctly.

Work with your account management team to get proper tracking in place. Agree on how you will value various types of conversions in your attribution model. How much value should the first interaction have relative to the last engagement before the goal conversion? Will you assign any value to newsletter signups or only to actual sales?

These are important questions because the team you’ve hired to win the online marketing game for you needs to know the goal and how it’s being measured. Only then can you expect them to work towards delivering the results that you’re paying for.

Red Flag #2: Sloppy Account Structure

This red flag is entirely the responsibility of the account manager, and it is an easy one to spot: is the account structured properly using industry best practices?

You can use tools like the Campaign Details and Ad Group Details reports on the Dimensions tab in Google Ads to figure this out.

Here are the main things to look out for:

  1. Ad groups with no ads
  2. Ad groups with no keywords
  3. Ad groups with too many keywords (30 is a good maximum to start with)
  4. Ad groups with no negative keywords
  5. Campaigns with fewer than 4 sitelinks extensions

A properly set-up account should have ads and keywords for all search ad groups. It should use the most popular extensions like sitelinks for all campaigns.

A well-managed account will keep its keyword counts below a certain level and have an always growing number of negative keywords.

When an analysis of the structure turns up surprises, it’s an indicator that the account team is doing a sloppy job of setting up new ad groups or ignoring optimizations. It may be that they don’t have proper processes for ensuring consistent quality or not leveraging technologies like Google Ads Scripts that help produce more consistently high-quality account builds. When you see this, ask for an explanation.

Red Flag #3: Lack of Intelligent Activity

Your account team’s job is to help you get the most from your Google Ads account. Different teams will approach this differently; some may log into your account daily to make small batches of changes; others will go in less frequently and do more significant changes. What ultimately matters is that there is a consistent monthly activity in the account. You can quickly check this by adding change history columns to the campaigns tab.

When evaluating the number of changes, don’t just look at the total changes: consider the type of change. The number of bid changes should probably be significantly higher than the number of ad changes.  This is because bids may change daily, whereas ads may take weeks before concluding a statistically significant A/B test. This is why I say you should look for intellectual activity and not just the sheer quantity of changes.

Too many changes should merit a closer look. Budgets should not change more than once a day for any campaign. Hourly budget changes are akin to steering an ocean liner by continually turning. Your manager should be setting the course for the month and make periodic adjustments to stay there, but there is usually no need to make tweaks every hour.

This red flag is to spot for months with very low activities or months with inconsistencies in activity levels.

Red Flag #4: Not Getting the Level of Attention You Deserve

Be realistic about what level of effort and customization to expect from your team. If you’re paying someone three hundred dollars per month to manage an account, you can’t expect that they will spend 20 hours working on very manual optimizations.

If your investment is minimal, you’re paying someone for their expertise using the tools built directly into Google Ads.  Imagine the management fee equating to an hourly wage. Then see if that hourly wage seems in line with the agency’s reputation and expertise.

If you’ve been with an agency for a while and meanwhile they’ve kept raising their fees for new clients, that may leave you as the smallest client at the agency. The harsh reality is that maybe you’re not as important a client as you once were to them. You may need to pay more to get the most from the agency’s new capabilities.

If you’re no longer an important client, it may be time to find a new agency. Or if you’re happy with the current agency, ask if paying more would get you more of the team’s time, and even better results.

Red Flag #5: You’re Always the One Starting Conversations

Communication is a cornerstone of any good relationship. You should expect that your agency will send you a monthly status report. A good agency shares just the executive summary and only goes into great detail if you ask for it.

If they send you a spreadsheet with hundreds of rows of data, beware. The only reason for this is if they expect you to tell them what to do with the data. That’s a red flag, because well, that’s their job.

If you never experience a dip in performance, count yourself lucky. Even the best management teams can be caught off- guard by a Google update, a change in consumer behaviour, or a glitch in your landing page performance.

It’s important that your agency communicate concerns openly with you. For example if they need your team to improve your landing pages, or if they are worried that conversion rates are low because your prices are not competitive.

An agency with only yes-people won’t push you to make your business better, so it’s essential that they feel they can bring up difficult topics without it turning into a blame game. That means you as the client should try to keep an open mind during calls so that you foster a culture of collaboration.

Ultimately it comes down to having mutual respect and having shared incentives. If that is missing, the relationship probably won’t last, and it’s perhaps time to interview a new account team.

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